Birte Papenhausen is a Resonance Arts worker based in Germany. She’s pioneering a ground-breaking form of discipleship, using drama.
WEC: You’re clearly passionate about drama. Did you ever imagine you could use it as part of mission?
Birte: I always wanted to be an actress! But when I got a closer look at the acting world, I didn’t really like what I saw. I studied drama therapy instead; that is, how to use drama to improve people’s lives. At the same time, I knew I would become a missionary. Sure enough, I found myself in Mongolia with WEC, and I stayed there for eleven years, planting churches, discipling believers and developing leaders.
WEC: And how did that all go?
Birte: Actually, I found the training and discipleship was quite frustrating at times. I began to realise we were using very Western approaches in these areas, and perhaps that was the problem. While our approaches were cognitive and text-based, Mongolia has a very oral culture; they learn by experience and sharing stories, not by abstract principles.
WEC: So you started using drama in Mongolia?
Birte: Yes, but not right away. In 2007, I started hearing about Resonance Art’s work, using art forms in ministry, and it really inspired me. I began to ask myself, ‘Why not use drama to help people’s faith grow?’ So, I tried a few things in Germany and the Netherlands, finding ideas and methods from the secular context to use to explore faith. Then I went back to Mongolia and started using drama for discipleship. It turned out to be really fruitful. After a while, I started training local Christians to use drama within mission.
WEC: How does drama help with discipleship?
Birte: For example you can use participatory drama methods where you can show common situations and have the audience say what they would do. They can immediately see whether their ideas will work, and you can then ask why it was successful or not. It strengthens a group and leads very naturally into discussion, and it can be very powerful in enabling healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. You can use drama to show Bible content to audiences who don’t know the Bible.
WEC: It sounds like really pioneering work. How have other missionaries responded to what you’re doing?
Birte: I get mixed responses. Within the Church in the West, there are still people who see drama as the devil’s work! When I’ve tried to put on drama-related projects in Germany or the Netherlands, things often get cancelled because not enough people are brave enough to try something new. But in other parts of the world – in south Asia and Indonesia, for example – they were very eager to receive training in drama for discipleship and are using it now in their ministries.
WEC: What’s next for you?
Birte: In the long term, I have a vision for a training programme to help missionaries learn the principles of drama in mission. But this is a long term vision – probably not for just now!
Find out more about our Arts Release ministry
Arts Release seeks to help believers all over the world to use their own art-forms to shape their communication and worship.
To this end, Arts Release seeks to train and mobilise:
- People who are already gifted in arts – music, drama, storytelling, dance and visual art – for cross-cultural outreach.
- Musicians and churches in multicultural worship.
- Arts Release offers internships, Short Term and long term placements.
We need you to get involved
Are you gifted in art, music, dance or drama? Explore how you can use your gifts for cross-cultural ministry.